Out of sight, out of mind.
That’s the problem when it comes to shoreline litter, according to Susan Debreceni, project manager for the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, an annual event that takes place all across Canada.
Yesterday, they teamed up with the Ottawa Police Marine Dive and Trail Unit near the locks on the Rideau Canal for an underwater cleanup dive, finding all sorts of things in the water, from bottles to a Kobo reader to an old drum.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to see what’s underneath the shorelines, the threat of shoreline litter and what our cleanups do to help prevent litter before it actually reaches this level,” Debreceni says. “It’s one of the largest threats facing the health of our waterways.”
These trash items not only cause entanglement, strangulation and starvation for marine life, but degrading garbage uses up oxygen, making the levels too low for animals to thrive.
Vancouver Aquarium staff members started the Cleanup in 1994, with the event going national in 2002. Last year, close to 2,000 registered sites covered over 3,000 kilometres.
But here’s the real dirt: close to 1.1 million items were picked up, weighing around 99,000 kilograms.
“We find everything from bicycles, fences, chairs, toilets — whatever you can imagine,” says Constable Ralph Millaire of the Ottawa Police Marine Dive and Trail Unit.
Each year, the dive occurs at the same spot in Ottawa on the Rideau Canal, which reaches depths of 7.6 to 9.1 metres. Millaire says that because of the way the currents work against each other in the area, everything stays there. “It doesn’t float away,” he says. “It’s easier for us to just splash a diver right on top of the garbage to pick it off.”
Among the items found in yesterday’s dive, there were solar-powered light sensors, a can-opener, a foldable chair, a lighter, a spatula, sunglasses, an intact bicycle and tons of bottles.
But the most common litter was cigarette butts and food and beverage items.
“We’re really trying to bring to light some of the behaviours that people have,” Debreceni says, emphasizing that it isn’t always intentional. “Awareness is one of our biggest solutions.”
Volunteers wanting to get their hands dirty can attend a celebration event held on the Parliament Hill shoreline on Sept. 20.